Jonathan Papelbon: The Forgotten Man

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2008

Is it just me, or has one of the Red Sox most potent weapons been noticeably forgotten in the remarkable 21-9 run this team has been on since Aug. 1? For someone who plays such an important role on this team, Jonathan Papelbon hasn’t been at the forefront of this team’s recent success, for no other reason than he hasn’t had to be.

Despite having as good an August as any month this season, having not allowed an earned run over 12-and-two-thirds innings, only four of Papelbon’s 11 appearances (36 percent) resulted in saves. In comparison, over his career as a reliever, including his brief time setting up for Keith Foulke, Papelbon has earned a save in 57 percent of his appearances.

As much as, if not more than, any other player on the team, Papelbon’s impact on the team is determined by the rest of his teammates. And in August, his teammates made his role as easy as it has been throughout most of his career in Boston.

Buoyed by a lineup that experienced its best month of the season, hitting .299 while scoring 6.3 runs per game, only seven games ended within a two-run spread in August.

As the Red Sox look forward to September, and the upcoming sprint against the Rays specifically, a fresh Papelbon will be one of the Red Sox biggest weapons.

But to play devil’s advocate for a second, could Papelbon’s “mental break” actually be a little detrimental to his performance in key situations during the stretch run? The closers’ mentality has proven time and time again to be a different beast.

How does the adrenaline junkie that lives off the high of being in the ultimate situation at the most critical times react to having the doses of that “drug” dialed down over an extended period of time?

I tend to fall on the side that given Papelbon’s consistent domination in nearly any context over the past three seasons, the rest will do nothing but keep him sharp as the season grinds on and ratchets up in pressure situations. His performance thus far has given me no pause to doubt that.

Do you have any concern that the team’s recent success may give Paps a little rust down the stretch?